Executive Briefings

Rise in Warehouse Automation Fuels Fire Risk, Too

A robotic material handling unit zips through a global toy manufacturer's six-story distribution center. As the unit retrieves an open-top plastic container filled with freshly molded toy planes from an automatic storage and retrieval system (ASRS), sparks from a frayed electrical cable on the robot fly everywhere, igniting both the toy planes and the plastic container in which they are stored.

Due to the high concentration of combustibles, flames quickly spread through the rack, involving more plastic and cardboard containers filled with toys that kids dream about.

Ceiling sprinklers activate, but by then the fire has spread across aisles arranged as narrowly as possible to maximize storage space. The ASRS’s steel racking structure that holds tens of thousands of toys starts to warp and buckle from the heat. That framework, by the way, was supporting the roof….

Scenarios like these worry risk managers and warehouse managers alike as the risk of fire in automated warehouses grows. First, more warehouses are automating — using robots instead of humans to pick and pack orders for shipping. Secondly, automation is enabling warehouses to go higher and store goods more densely.

Not only do risk managers fear that a fire will destroy their inventory and interrupt their business, perhaps critically; they may also have more routine concerns:

• A lack of guidance on what they need for fire protection of these automatic storage arrangements.

• They don’t want to overspend on new fire protection.

• They especially don’t want to decrease their storage capacities — unless absolutely necessary.

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Due to the high concentration of combustibles, flames quickly spread through the rack, involving more plastic and cardboard containers filled with toys that kids dream about.

Ceiling sprinklers activate, but by then the fire has spread across aisles arranged as narrowly as possible to maximize storage space. The ASRS’s steel racking structure that holds tens of thousands of toys starts to warp and buckle from the heat. That framework, by the way, was supporting the roof….

Scenarios like these worry risk managers and warehouse managers alike as the risk of fire in automated warehouses grows. First, more warehouses are automating — using robots instead of humans to pick and pack orders for shipping. Secondly, automation is enabling warehouses to go higher and store goods more densely.

Not only do risk managers fear that a fire will destroy their inventory and interrupt their business, perhaps critically; they may also have more routine concerns:

• A lack of guidance on what they need for fire protection of these automatic storage arrangements.

• They don’t want to overspend on new fire protection.

• They especially don’t want to decrease their storage capacities — unless absolutely necessary.

Read Full Article